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Puerto Rico’s renewable energy projects still a dream

By on August 12, 2017

Editor’s note: The following article originally appeared in the August 10 print edition of Caribbean Business.

SAN JUAN — Of the 68 renewable power-purchase and operating agreements (PPOAs) that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa) signed with several entities between 2008 and 2012, only 58 remain in effect as of June of this year but construction on 47 of those is up in the air.

The information is contained in a document Prepa submitted to the P.R. Energy Commission (PREC) to comply with certain requirements of the Integrated Resource Plan that also revealed some of the animosity the utility has against its regulator.

For instance, PREC had asked Prepa to discuss the steps that were taken regarding the initiative to build a new combined-cycle plant at the Aguirre site in Salinas that would burn light diesel, and about repowering the existing CC units at that location. These projects were proposed by PREC as alternatives to the Aguirre Offshore GasPort (AOGP), a liquefied natural gas facility the utility wants to build but the regulator has paralyzed.

“Prepa previously has explained that it cannot simultaneously seek inconsistent permits for this alternative while still pursuing permits for the AOGP and the associated conversions…Prepa has taken regarding seeking permits for those alternatives,” Prepa said.

Regarding the renewable PPOAs, Prepa said the 58 projects’ renewable purchase agreements would, in effect, provide 1,480.6 megawatts (MWs) of energy. In 2013, Prepa commissioned a renewable energy-generation study to determine how much renewable energy could be integrated into the grid. The study conducted by Siemens determined that 580 MWs of utility-scale projects could safely be integrated considering 100% compliance with Prepa’s technical requirements, a system peak demand of 3,300 MWs and curtailment levels of 2.26% and 64 MWs of net metering projects.

After the study, Prepa renegotiated in 2013 to 2014 about 18 of the PPOAs that were in advanced stages of permitting.

Of the 58 PPOAs remaining in effect, eight are in commercial operation, three are in pre-operation and the rest have not commenced construction. The 11 projects in operation or pre-operation would provide 272 MWs of energy capacity from wind, sun and landfill gas sources.

Of the 47 PPOAs that have not begun construction, 15 were renegotiated, including the proposed Energy Answers in Arecibo while 32 have not been renegotiated.

“Prepa is evaluating the course of action to follow with the PPOAs, which were not renegotiated, and depend on the renegotiated PPOAs that will finally enter operation,” the utility said.

While Prepa must, by law, start increasing the amount of renewable energy it provides, the technology still cannot be used to provide for energy demand because it is still unreliable. Renewables, such as solar energy, need batteries to store the generated energy so systems can continue to operate if there is no sunlight.

The document provided by Prepa contained a list of the projects but none of the island’s hydroelectric plants were included. Earlier this year, Francisco Rullán, director of the Energy Public Policy Office, said Prepa was evaluating the possibility of rebuilding some of the island’s 20 hydroelectric plants, which date back to the 19th century.

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